Posted on May 15 2019
So maybe you're new to yoga and you aren't sure whether to invest in your own mat? Or you've been wanting to upgrade your mat but don't know where to start? Here's my yoga mat 101.
For me it is undeniable the energy my yoga mat has gathered over the 4+ years I've been practicing on it. It has created a special platform for me that shifts my entire thinking when I roll it out, in fact, with the certain smell and feel it carries now I can literally emulate a shala (sacred place) anywhere I unroll it. Remember your mat is creating steady grounding for your yoga journey, catching you as you fall, cradling you during savasana and perhaps even wiping away your sweat and tears (that's a lot right?), so it definitely worth investing in the right one.
Personally, I have my 'student' mat, the classic rectangle, that I take to every class I participate in and use for home practices. This one can get very sweaty so it's a towel top for grip and is machine washable. Then there's the mat I teach on, the 'roundie', obviously not optimal when fitting in the classroom as a student but allows me to face any direction whilst I teach. So sure, there's a bit of weight behind the choice you make but fear not! Here's 5 things to consider when you are buying a yoga mat.
Most new yogi's that I speak to assume that the thicker the mat the better it must be but this isn't necessarily true. Firstly, you need to ask what sort of yoga is it being used for. For example, if it's a slow moving class with lots of longer holding on the ground in one position, like a yin yoga, then yes perhaps thicker will provide more comfort. In contrast, if you're moving a lot and doing plenty of holds in downward dog or standing balances, quite often the thinner the better. What I find is the thinner the mat the more grounded you'll feel, so if you need to control your movements in flow this might be something to consider. Cons of a thinner mat are obviously less padding particularly on knees, hips, shoulders etc. So have a think, what will I predominantly be using it for? AND how comfy do I need to be in those positions?
Another thing to consider here is storage and travel. With thickness comes more bulk when transporting and storing. Alternatively, there are some travel yoga mats that a super thin to allow for ease with folding and storage. You're generally looking at about 2mm for the thinner styles and up to 8mm thick for more padded styles.
For me: I personally like thinner mats for extra grounding. It's a 3.5mm as a student as I'm mostly doing vinyasa style classes. For teaching my round mat is 2mm, there isn't many options for thicker styles as it needs to be able to fold for transport but conveniently it's easy for me to glide on and off the mat to assist in class and return without tripping up. I have troubles with my right knee cap feeling slightly uncomfortable is some positions post knee surgery but I'm always able to accommodate this is some way.
As with every purchase you make, you should consider the environmental and social impact of your yoga mat. Traditionally, most yoga mats are made from PVC or polyurethane which is generally the most cost effective choice. Even with the extremely low price tag my advise is to avoid these.
PVC mats aren't made of natural substances and won't biodegrade. They can wear out a lot quicker than other options so they are likely to need more frequent replacement, leading to more landfill over time. Not to mention they are carcinogenic! There are loads of options that are environmentally friendly and much better for you too. Please do your research. In eco mats, look for recycled or natural rubber, jute, cork or organic cotton mats which will make you and the planet smile. What you're aiming for is quality and sustainability, to hopefully never have your yoga mat end up in landfill or not biodegrade!
For me: my mats are made of 100% natural tree rubber with a vegan suede microfibre top made from recycle bottles with water based inks.
Image: Bliss & Balance Purple Rain Yoga Mat
Texture has a lot to do with the material your mat is made from (see above). If you tend to get sweaty (as most of us naturally do) or if you are doing a heated yoga class then you'll definitely want grip. When looking at rubber mats a rough pattern or texture is generally printed into your mat to assist with grip. The last thing you want is a slipping hand or foot during down dog. Keep in mind yoga mats that are foamier, less dense or smoother on the surface, may be more slippery and stretch apart if made of poorer quality materials, which isn't ideal when you want a firm grounding during practice. And if you go cheap, you very well might end up with half your yoga mat stuck to you at the end of class as the surface flakes off. Yuck!
Some natural fibre mats such as jute or cotton can be very scratchy and overly textured too so if you have sensitivity to this type of material perhaps avoid- you want maximum comfort particularly as you lie on your mat for lengthy periods during meditation.
If you are someone who can get sweaty palms and feet too or you usually do hot yoga, maybe consider a towel top mat which allows you to grip when wet. Here's a tip: spray the mat with a bit of water or wet your hands and feet until you get warm to assist with grip at the start of class.
For me: I love the towel tops for class as it allows me to grip more the sweatier I get.
Price can be a little bit tricky because generally with a better quality mat the cost of production and distribution gets higher. If this article has taught you anything already it is that better quality = longer lasting. So even if you are just starting out look perhaps at hiring the mats your studio provides or even borrowing a friends (every yogi likely has a spare) until you decide exactly what you want to invest in. Please don't feed into the poorer quality, temporary purchase. These mass production companies don't need you, the consumer, feeding the demand of mats that will inevitably end up in landfill when quickly replaced.
For me: Local companies are best as I am more than happy for my money to go back into my community. I'm in Melbourne, Australia and love the mats at Bliss & Balance.
Image: Bliss & Balance In Bloom Yoga Mat
With everything else measured up all you have left is to pick a style. Yoga mats even in the past 5 years have become such a statement and you can get nearly anything you want printed on a mat. This is where you get to express yourself entirely. Pick something fun and something that will make you smile every time you roll it out.
Check out Monique's other blog posts here